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Chinese Police Kill 7 Suspected Kidnappers in Restive West

***File*** A woman and a child walk ahead of police officers patrolling on a street in Urumqi in northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region Friday, July 2, 2010. Chinese authorities have stepped up security measures ahead of the anniversary of a d

Chinese officials say police have shot and killed seven suspected kidnappers during a rescue operation in the country's troubled western region of Xinjiang.

Police opened fire on the suspects after encountering resistance while trying to free two hostages who officials say had been kidnapped by what they called “a violent terrorist group.”

Officials say the hostages were rescued, but one police officer was killed in the operation. Police wounded and arrested four other suspects.

The state-run news agency Xinhua said the shooting happened in Pishan, an area dominated by the minority Turkic-speaking Uighur population.

Police did not say whether the incident was related to ongoing ethnic tensions between the mainly Muslim Uighurs and the majority Han Chinese population.

Tensions have been high in Xinjiang since ethnic riots two years ago that left about 200 people dead.

Earlier this year, a Chinese court sentenced four men to death in connection with a deadly wave of violence in Xinjiang in July that killed scores of people.

China blames the violence on militant Islamists, but has provided little evidence of organized terror activity in the region.

Exile groups say the Uighurs have been economically and culturally repressed in their homeland by a growing influx of Han Chinese.